You say #039;tomato,#039; I say #039;ta-mah-toe#039;

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 3, 2005

Do you pronounce it 'pa-jah-mahs' or 'pa-jam-ahs'?

There are many words in our daily vocabulary that we use, but they might not be used correctly. That does not necessarily bother me.

Our rich Southern vernacular is not only a distinctive part of our identity, but it is a unique and identifiable characteristic that cannot be truly duplicated.

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Let's take a look at some of the names we might give to our pets, for example.

When I was a child, we had a big brindled bulldog named Tuff.

(Do you really think we would have spelled it 'Tough'?) Tuff is a good Southern name for a good Southern bulldog.

And, tough he was.

What about the name 'Tiger'?

I have a cat named Tiger now.

I had a cat named Tiger when I was 13.

My brother Lamar had a cat named Tiger when he was a teenager.

It has been pointed out to me that I'm not very original when it comes to pets' names, with Samson, of course, being an exception.

My brother Britt had a hunting dog named Mary.

Now, you must say it correctly.

Her name was 'May-ree,' not 'Mare-ri'; there is a difference, you know.

I was 18 years old before I became cognizant of the fact that there were words and phrases, which I had used my entire life, that were not exactly correct or that may not be recognized by many people outside of the Butler County area.

Upon entering the collegiate world of Auburn University at Montgomery, my language barrier was brought to my attention while standing in the cafeteria line one day.

I asked the young lady behind the counter, who was obviously around my age, for some chicken fingers, mashed potatoes and 'snap beans.'

You could have heard a pin drop.

The girl stares at me with a gaping mouth and a blank look and asks, "What did you just say?"

At this, I immediately started looking for that big hole that should have been in the floor in which I could crawl and disappear.

Again, the young lady asked me, "What did you call them?"

By this time, the mortification of the entire situation had left me speechless, so I just pointed to the desired item.

Finally, I found enough voice to say, "Um, green beans?"

With that said, I will admit that until I was about 19 years old, I thought I drove my mother and my grandmother to Dr. Taylor's office, who was the 'cow-practor.' When that's all you hear your entire life, it takes awhile to really look at a word and say, "Wait a minute.

I'm not saying that according to how it's written."

Also, those things above your eyes are not 'I-briars.' Did you know that you sleep on 'bed-clothes'?

Or, did you know that my mother used to work at the 'pitcher show'?

Do you use 'washing powders' when you do laundry? What about the fact that so many Southern ladies go EVERY week to get their hair 'done' or to have their hair 'fixed'?

To which I've actually been asked, "Is it broken?" Hey, don't mess with a sacred Southern ritual.

Having said all of this, let me ask you a few questions.

Did you know that you don't wash your clothes, you launder them?

You don't get your hair cut, you get it trimmed.

You shower, you bathe your body, and you shampoo your hair.

No, you don't wash your hair; you wash your car.

And, last but not least, you don't cut your grass, you mow your lawn.

I know, I know.

Don't fuss at me about it.

Having discussed the intricacies and uniqueness of Southern colloquialisms with Samson, my 21-pound tomcat, we agreed that it was a great thing that feline was a universal language. By using modes of communication, such as paw signals and nipping with the teeth, the phrases "Feed me now" and "I want your full attention" can easily be understood in any language or location throughout the world.

Regina Grayson is a reporter with the Greenville Advocate.

She can be reached at 334-383-9302, ext. 126 or via email at